Last general conference, our prophet spoke the following sentence: ” I think X may be the greatest virtue on earth, and certainly the most needed.”
What is X? Perhaps you remember it from the talk. If not, and if you wish to humor me for a minute with some participatory blogging, then try this for an exercise: Think over the sentence for a minute, and write down your three or four best possible answers for X. Think you’ve got it? Click through for further discussion.
I posed the question to my class on Sunday, and received a variety of responses. Honesty, suggested one person. Love, said another. Charity, said a third. A half dozen more suggestions were made — none of them the particular virtue that President Hinckley chose to highlight.
X is forgiveness. And of forgiveness, President Hickley said:
I wish today to speak of forgiveness. I think it may be the greatest virtue on earth, and certainly the most needed. There is so much of meanness and abuse, of intolerance and hatred. There is so great a need for repentance and forgiveness. It is the great principle emphasized in all of scripture, both ancient and modern.
Forgiveness is the great virtue; forgiveness is what will take us past hatred and meanness, what will take us past intolerance and abuse. Given the number of other highly important virtues that President Hinckley could have chosen to so highlight — love, charity, faith, virtue, and so on — it is enlightening that he reserved his esteem for forgiveness. If forgiveness is the greatest virtue on earth, it is indeed a great thing.
One particular area we discussed in class was forgiveness in marriage. Certain unique difficulties may make forgiveness in marriage difficult. Married people are, to use an economics term (probably out of context), “repeat players.” They engage in the same offense-and-forgiveness interactions again and again — giving offense, taking offense, demanding apology, giving apology. Given the repeat transactions, it is easy for battle lines to become hardened. In those cases, today’s argument isn’t simply about what one says today; it dredges up the ghosts of a thousand arguments past. This makes forgiveness all the more difficult — and all the more important. (Sometimes I wonder if that’s what happened to Satan. He was offered a settlement, a truce, a way back to the fold. But he couldn’t get over some perceived slight that he felt he had suffered because of something Nephi had said centuries ago. And eventually, the settlement talks came to a halt and the war resumed.)
The blogging relationship is much less serious than marriage, but brings with it many of the same repeat player concerns. Over time, it becomes easy to assume the worst about our fellow bloggers or commenters. The medium itself lends to this — for the 99% of us who don’t write like Rosalynde, it is hard to convey a smile or a laugh in a sentence. Also, many of us have now been interacting online, on a near-daily basis, for a year or two years, and we feel the effects of repeat player transactions. There are benefits to this long-term interaction — we feel that we really know Nate Oman and Kristine Haglund Harris and Jim Faulconer after all this time. But there are also drawbacks — we may feel that we already know all that some person has to say about a topic, for instance. And we may see every comment as a continuation of battles long past.
So how do we avoid the worst tendencies of repeat player transactions? I don’t know the answer myself; I’m as prone to these problems as anyone else, I think. But when I’m thinking more lucidly, I think that a good first step is found in a motto I’ve seen bandied about on the internet, that goes along these lines: “Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by misunderstanding.”
At least for me, that’s the first step in forgiveness. And forgiveness is, after all, the greatest virtue on earth.